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TRASHING BUSH-BASHING (PART 2)! Byron York knew the pleasing new spin: Bush critics must just be nutty:


YORK TERRIER: Yep. Bill O’Reilly was deeply disturbed by the rancid discourse. He cited some Doonesbury cartoons about Arnold Schwarzenegger, and a mildly critical column on the Golden State hopeful by “far leftist” scribe Robert Scheer (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 9/24/03). “I’ll tell you, gentlemen,” the troubled host told his guests. “This is poisoning everything we have here in America as far as civil debate is concerned.” And you could tell how upset Mr. O really was in the face of the uncivil conduct. Only minutes before, he had slammed a group of federal judges, calling them a bunch of “racketeers.”

For months now, Bill has torn his hair, convinced that America has never seen anything like all this Doonesbury stuff. But at least when Mr. O makes these remarks, you can assume that he somewhat believes them. Others, of course, are pimping spin—the latest cant from the RNC, designed to stunt the public discourse. The spin has been on the street for months: These irrational Bush-haters are far, far worse than anything we ever saw with Clinton. And many top pundits—who know this is bunk—have been eager to recite the prime spin-point.

Consider National Review’s Byron York, a bright and sophisticated writer. Almost surely, York understands that this current spin is just a big pile of hot, steaming hokum. But still, he rushed the point into print in a ludicrous September 1 report. Readers, don’t make us read it again! Jonathan Chait dissects York’s foofaw in the new New Republic:

CHAIT: Conservatives, in retrospect, now concede that some of the Clinton haters were a little bit nutty. But they usually do so only in the context of declaring that Bush hatred is as bad or worse. “Back then, [there were] disapproving articles—not to mention armchair psychoanalysis—about Clinton-hating,” complains Byron York in a National Review story this month. “Today, there appears to be less concern.”…

It’s certainly true that there is a left-wing fringe of Bush haters whose lurid conspiracy-mongering neatly parallels that of the Clinton haters. York cites various left-wing websites that compare Bush to Hitler and accuse him of murder. The trouble with this parallel is, first, that this sort of Bush-hating is entirely confined to the political fringe.

As readers may recall, York made a valiant attempt to say that Bush-hating is totally out of control. He even pretended that a kooky book you never heard of outsells Franken and Ivins! (See THE DAILY HOWLER, 8/22/03.) But then, we think you know how this game is played. When the RNC says “jump,” conservative pundits say “how high?” Then they emit the silliest possible recitation of the pleasing new mandated spin-point.

Are today’s “Bush-haters” far, far worse than anything we ever saw with Clinton? The notion is foolish, as York surely knows. But for conservative spinners, it’s getting harder to attack Bush’s critics as unpatriotic. So they’re trying to say something equally pleasing—they’re trying to say that Bush’s critics are kooky, crazy, crackpot, unbalanced. Why, you’d have to be crazy to criticize Bush! That’s the official new RNC spin. Spinners like York churn examples.

Readers, is current Bush-hating far, far worse than anything we ever saw with Clinton? Please! Clearly, York needs some HOWLER HISTORY! Tomorrow, we revisit the glory days of Clinton-bashing on the cable show Hardball—and, of course, on Hannity & Colmes. How bad did the Clinton-hating get? Tomorrow, we’ll recall how bad things get when the haters do run the asylum.

CHAIT CHAT: As readers know, we’re big fans of Chait’s policy work at TNR. But we couldn’t help chuckling over a passage in his September 22 TRB column. (Chait was guesting for Peter Beinart.) While discussing the Clark campaign, Chait described recent Dem White House politics:

CHAIT: Clark’s main selling point is his gig as supreme allied NATO commander during the 1990s. To understand why this makes him an ideal Democratic nominee, consider President Bush’s political strengths and weaknesses. His popularity does not derive from his policies. Indeed, the public has consistently opposed his domestic priorities—on everything from taxes to health care. Under normal political conditions, a Democratic candidate should be favored. However, we do not live under normal political conditions. The Clinton scandals produced a cultural backlash, which in 2000 allowed Bush to compensate for the unpopularity of his platform by coming across as a decent, regular guy while portraying his opponent as untrustworthy, aloof, and culturally alien. More important, the September 11 attacks drastically altered the political landscape: The perception that Republicans are stronger on national security than Democrats, until recently a marginal factor in elections, is now a threshold issue.
Surely, you can see why we chuckled. According to Chait, it was Candidate Bush who “portray[ed] his opponent as untrustworthy, aloof, and culturally alien” in Campaign 2000. According to Chait, it was Candidate Bush who engineered the trashing of Candidate Gore.

This notion, of course, is sheer nonsense. Bush barely mentioned Candidate Gore until March 2000—by which time the Washington press corps had been trashing Gore for a solid twelve months. In fact, the Bush campaign played little role in the endless trashing and spinning of Gore—the endless propaganda campaign which almost surely decided the 2000 race. But you recall what we’ve always told you: Careerist journalists simply won’t tell you about the conduct of their own cohort (even conduct in which they themselves played no part). Here we see the principle enacted again. During Campaign 2000, it was the Washington press corps which spent twenty months trashing Gore as “untrustworthy, aloof and culturally alien”—as a delusional liar, just like Clinton, who was willing to do and say anything to win. But pundits avoid talking turkey about their own cohort. In Chait’s column, the press corps’ miserable, endless misconduct is deftly dumped off on George Bush.

As we’ve said, we’re big fans of Chait’s policy work. But press insiders would rather eat worms than discuss their cohort’s actual conduct. Candidate Bush played little role in the crucial trashing of Gore. Deferring to the misconduct of colleagues, Chait lets you think that he did.

BILL REMEMBERS: Readers complained when we said, in yesterday’s HOWLER, that we like a fair hunk of O’Reilly’s work. What could we possibly mean? they inquired. Well, for one thing, O’Reilly is persistently fair about sexual orientation, although he’s squeamish on the subject. Last night, for example, he hosted Richard Chamberlain—“Dr. Kildare”—who, it turns out, was gay the whole time! We think O’Reilly serves his viewers when he engages like this:

O’REILLY: Every newspaper has 500 gossip columnists, and they print everything, and—so at least you don’t have to deal with [being gay as an actor] now in this kind of a climate, but, you know, I feel sorry for people who, you know, are under that kind of pressure.


O’REILLY: Go ahead.

CHAMBERLAIN: I actually feel sorry for people who have a lot of illusions in their head about what gay is. I mean, I know some gay people who are really wonderful people.

O’REILLY: Of course there are.

CHAMBERLAIN: I think I’m a really wonderful person.

O’REILLY: Of course.

CHAMBERLAIN: I’ve been in a relationship for 26 years.

O’REILLY: No—Mr. Chamberlain, let me break this to you, all right?


O’REILLY: All right. No clear-thinking American thinks gay people are bad.


O’REILLY: That’s just the fringe, the crazies. I always say, Look, let the deity sort this out. You know, we’re all Americans here. We’re all in it together.

Surely, there’s something there for liberals to like (and things for purists to nit-pick). By the way, O’Reilly—a consummate kook when it comes to the Clintons—was by far the fairest major host when it came to Candidate Gore. If even Chris Matthews had followed his lead, Mr. G might well sit in the White House.

By the way, O’Reilly proved a mensch when he chatted with Chamberlain—and he proved that he was a teen-aged, hetero male in the early 60s. At one point, a host reminisced about a lost love. He recalled the ultimate Kildare:

O’REILLY: Well, look, I remember when I was a little kid watching your program, and I have to be—I didn’t watch it because of you. I watched it because of Yvette Mimieux. Remember her? I loved her.


O’REILLY: And she was like your girlfriend, right, on that program for a while?

CHAMBERLAIN: Well, she was. And that’s everybody’s favorite. It was called “Tiger, Tiger.”

O’REILLY: Yes. I mean, whoa, Yvette!

We thought it was ”everybody’s favorite” too—the two-episode tale of the doomed surfer-girl with whom Dr. Kildare fell madly in love. What hetero male of a certain age didn’t remember that episode? (“Yvette Mimieux”—to gentlemen of a certain age, we’d assumed it was French for “Barbara Eden.”) But today, we lounged at lunch just a block from the White House, listening to suave guest speaker Michael Beschloss as he ruminated about recent presidents. (He even explained what Johnson meant when he said that a bill would go through Congress “like a dose of salt through a widow woman.”) But alas! At our table, we asked three different men of appropriate age if they recalled a special Kildare episode. Every one of them said he did not. Quickly, we reached our standard conclusion. Our luncheon pals? Clearly not human!